West Palm Beach CRA acts to improve near northwest area

The $2.4 million sale of the Sunset Lounge will likely close early next year

Aug.August 27, 2015 10:30 AM

The West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency is taking a number of steps to fix up the city’s beleaguered near northwest neighborhood.

The city has reached an agreement to buy the storied Sunset Lounge, a legendary largely African-American jazz club that hosted icons such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington. The $2.4 million deal will likely close early next year, Jon Ward, CRA executive director, told The Real Deal.

The house comes with six other parcels that are adjacent or across the street. The plan is to convert the area into a park, museum or performance hall.

“The Sunset Lounge is the most important element of the CRA’s plan, because that’s the anchor of the neighborhood, like the Harriet Himmel Theater in CityPlace,” architect Rick Gonzalez, president of REG Architects, told TRD.

But the Sunset purchase is just the start of the CRA’s plans for the neighborhood. First, it’s in the process of sprucing up 7th Street. It has asked the Florida East Coast Railway to let 7th Street run through the FEC crossing west of Dixie Highway. That would create a fourth east-west thoroughfare from Flagler Drive to Australian Avenue.

“We’re renovating 7th Street in anticipation of that,” Ward told TRD. This includes street resurfacing, bump-outs, landscaping, lighting and sidewalk improvements. The CRA is seeking to develop a restaurant row on the south side of 7th Street and helped Queen of Sheeba restaurant with its renovation and expansion there.

The CRA also intends to renovate Tamarind Avenue from 7th Street to Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, putting utilities underground and rebuilding the water and sewer infrastructure. The road will be resurfaced and the streetscape improved, just as on 7th Street, Ward said.

Meanwhile, the CRA is in talks with developers to build a hotel at 3rd Street and Rosemary Avenue, and it just accepted the donation of five properties at 4th Street and Division Avenue that can be turned into a bed-and-breakfast for cultural tourism.

Local real estate pros say they are impressed with the moves. “This is exciting, it’s a huge improvement for the neighborhood,” Gonzalez said. “It’s nice to see it get attention. A rising tide lifts all boats, so let’s bring this tugboat with us.”

William Cummings, a real estate broker for Century 21, also expressed enthusiasm. “The city has the right idea, especially since it is cooperating with townspeople who have been there two to four generations,” he told TRD. “That combination with local residents can result in really good rejuvenation in that area.”

Gonzalez and Cummings said they are particularly impressed with the plans to improve 7th Street. “It’s very important to have 7th Street go all the way through to have access to that neighborhood,” Cummings said. “Then cars will go through. They will go to Queen of Sheeba, for example. Every city has an old part open to tourism and a part that has modern components.”

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